08 Aug The Truth
‘I’m hungry,’ I thought to myself. ‘Hungry and bored. A bacon cheeseburger would really hit the spot right about now.’ I took a deep breath in through my nose. ‘This place smells too clean. It’s like hospital disinfectant.’
I hate hospital disinfectant. It feels like a lie; an attempt to convince people that things are better than they are. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against cleanliness. I’m not saying hospitals should use dirty equipment but I doubt there is any need for such copious amounts of the stuff.
The sound of the heavy door opening once more interrupted my inner musings, if you could really call them musings. The smell of unhealthy, greasy food embraced my nostrils, easily overpowering the smell of cleanliness.
“I smell fries,” I said after a while. I opened my eyes, looking again at the plain grey ceiling above me, before finally sitting up to see who’d come in this time. This man was casually dressed, in a shirt and jeans, holding a brown paper bag.
“You smell right,” he answered kindly.
“Would there happen to be a burger in there as well?”
“Fried chicken. Sorry to disappoint.”
“That’ll do.” He put the bag down on the table and I rose to my feet, stretching my legs for good measure, before reaping the oily treasures of the bag.
The man pulled a chair out from the table, swung it round and straddled it, facing me. “So, how about we get to know each other?”
I shrugged. “You make the rules.”
He smiled at me and outstretched his hand. “I’m Dean.”
“Liana. Although I’m sure you knew that,” I said with a mouthful of chicken. I cleaned my hands on my jeans and shook his hand briefly, quickly returning to my food.
“You wanna tell me why you were lying on the floor?”
“Come on, Dean. Have you tried sitting on these chairs for longer than twenty minutes? It’s impossible.”
“Are you not comfortable?” he asked with an air of concern.
“I think we both know I’m not supposed to be comfortable.” I handed the bag back to him. “I think I’m done. How about we get down to business? I assume you’ve been sent in here for results so have a go.”
“I’m not here for results, just to listen. And, hopefully, we can get to the truth.”
I’ve always found the truth a dicey subject. People always think of the truth as this intrinsically accurate thing. Like there’s any way the truth can be objective. There are facts, sure. If you have two apples and someone else gives you two more apples, you’ll have four apples. That’s a fact. That’s “true”. The sky is blue: that’s true, right? But it isn’t. You know, sometimes the sky is grey, sometimes it’s cloudy, sometimes it’s black. The sky isn’t even really a tangible thing. Like, if the sky starts where the ground ends, then are we all standing in the sky all the time? No. “Truth”, as a concept, sucks. The truth is always entirely subjective.
“Yeah, hopefully,” I said coldly.
He indicated to the empty chair across from him and I sat down. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
I sighed. “Counter-proposal: why don’t you tell me what everyone else has told you I said happened? Let’s be real here…Dean; I’m a grown woman and I’m not stupid. How long have I been here now? I’d guess about, what, nine hours?”
“How long exactly?”
He checked his watch. “Nine hours and…seven minutes.” He lowered his hand and look straight into my eyes. “That’s really impressive.”
“What can I say? I’m good at estimating time; I’ve had a lot of practice.”
He leaned forward onto his elbows. “What do you mean by that?”
Time is supposed to be a weird concept, isn’t it? When you’re having fun, it flies; when you’re not, it stops. But I’ve always found that time is one of the most basic concepts that has ever existed. Time never changes. Ten minutes is ten minutes, whether you’re watching your favourite show or whether you’re getting teeth pulled. Perspectives change; time doesn’t. They say if you deprive someone of the ability to keep time, they lose track of it: for example, if you throw them in a dark room or something. But I find that if you deprive someone of the ability to keep time, the only thing that keeps you sane is keeping track of it. Darkness: now that changes. I’ve always felt weird about darkness. At times, I wear it like a familiar blanket of comfort; at others, it wraps itself so tightly around me, I can’t breathe. It’s that kind of all-consuming darkness where you can’t see your own hand in front of your face. I spent a lot of time in that kind of darkness and counting was the only thing that let me get through it: counting the seconds that turned into minutes that turned into hours. Time is a constant. It’s way more reliable than truth.
“Exactly what it sounds like,” I answered.
“Why would you need to practice estimating time?”
“People have weird hobbies, Dean. You can’t punish them for that.”
“Nobody’s trying to punish you, Liana. We’re just trying to get to the heart of the matter; that’s all. Get some sort of justice.”
Justice. Justice is laughable. Justice is for people who can afford it; people who can get flashy, expensive lawyers who siphon smooth-talking and big words into bespoke suits with their initials embroidered on pocket handkerchiefs. It’s not for the little people who get given the shitty public defenders; the kids who shoplift high tech gadgets as presents for their little siblings because their parents will never be able to afford them; the girl on scholarship who drinks a bit more than she can handle to try to fit in and the next thing she knows, there’s a whole college football team on her and a camera in her face; the ex-husband who pays alimony through the nose but never gets to see his kids. Where’s their justice?
“Okay,” I said finally. “So if I’m not being punished, do you want to tell me why I’ve been sitting in this room for nine hours and counting?”
He attempted a friendly smile. “We just want to get the story straight. And your side of it is very important.”
“I’ve told my side of the story. Over and over again. So why can’t I go home?” I challenged him.
He was meant to be ‘the nice one’. The tactics they were throwing at me weren’t imaginative at all:
1.) Keep the suspect locked up for an extended period of time without any contact to make them nervous. In my case, it was about two and a half hours.
2.) Make the suspect repeat their story, in order to check for discrepancies. Then, question the story, a different round of questions by each person; repeat the story back to them with intentional incorrect details to see if they trip themselves up.
3.) Make the room as uncomfortable as possible. Keep it too cold or too warm; ensure all of the furniture is flawed in some way. The chairs in the questioning room were too hard and one of the legs on my chair was a centimetre shorter than the rest.
4.) Play on their emotions. Talk about your family or theirs; talk about babies, puppies, kittens and rainbows. Appeal to their humanity.
5.) Don’t feed them for a while. Hungry people are more likely to confess.
6.) At some point, throw someone new in the mix. Somebody nicer than the rest. Someone who talks to them like an actual human being as opposed to another suspect. Someone they can strike up familiarity with. Someone who’ll coax them into coming clean. Someone who’ll feed them. Someone like Dean.
“Just once more and then you can go. That’s all we need. Is that okay?”
I sighed. “Sure,” I said blankly.
He smiled again, rolled up his sleeves and pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket. “Let’s start from the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.” He offered a small laugh along with his joke. I stared at him. His overt friendliness was so alien to the rest of his associates that, instead of humanising him, all it did was make him seem more like a deliberate ploy.
I’m not a fan of being played with. I don’t like it when people assume I’m dumber than they are, especially when those people don’t have so much as half a brain to work with. Like Ricky. Fuck Ricky. He’s the whole reason I’m here.
“It was Saturday night,” I began. “I was at a party; a work thing. It was stale. Boring music, boring food, boring people.” Those were facts. “Rick, one of my co-workers took it upon himself to liven the party up.”
“More alcohol. That’s how Rick operates; spices things up with inebriation. It’s stupid. But it worked. People started loosening up: there was more talking, more laughing. It felt more like a party.”
Ricky mixed up some deadly drinks and passed them around the party. He was pretty shit at organising his desk or his life but when people’s drunkenness was at stake, he operated at top form. He’s like the pin-headed jock that never left high school. His cocky bravado is the only thing that’s gotten him as far as he’s come.
“Tell me more about Rick,” Dean said, looking at me intently.
“He was by far the drunkest.” Fact. “He was making passes at any available woman.” Fact. “He was striking out. A lot.” Fact. “Until he got lucky.” True. Not a fact. “With Susan. Which wasn’t so lucky for her.” Fact. “They made out for a while and then Ricky took her off somewhere more…private.”
I took a break from the party to go to the bathroom, where I was greeted by the unfortunate sight of Ricky trying to get it off with Susan. Susan isn’t a big drinker; she never has been. In her heavily intoxicated state, anything she said was a slur. She was trying to say, “get off of me.” It came out as, “get marrrrhh me.” And as far as Ricky was concerned, if there wasn’t a clear no, it was consensual. She tried to hit him off, he got pissed off and smacked her. Hard. Then he noticed I was there. We stared at each other for a few moments. Then this drunken, leery, perverted smile spread across his face; he asked me if I “liked what I saw” and whether I wanted to join in because he was sure “to show me the time of my life.” Poor Susan was still lying on the floor and I saw red. No, not red. Everything went dark. That all-consuming dark. And when that finally went away, I did see red. Dark crimson trickling down the pristine white bathroom sink and collecting in a puddle on the blue and mint-green tiles. Susan was crying.
“The next thing anyone knew, there was crying coming from the ladies’ bathrooms. We rushed in and Rick was lying in a pool of his own blood next to Susan’s sobbing body. We called an ambulance. And that was that.”
“Anything else you’d like to tell me?” Dean asked. We made intense eye contact for what seemed like hours.
In reality, it was 27 seconds. I counted.
“I hope he comes out of the coma. And I hope you find who’s responsible. Other than that, I’d really like to go home now.”
He sighed despondently. “Okay. Thank you for your time, Liana. You’re free to go.”
“Thanks for the chicken, Dean,” I said as I left.
Did I feel guilty? No. Dean said they wanted to get justice and Susan got hers. I told the truth. Just…selectively. The truth is a dicey subject.
This work has been written and is the copyright of Tricia Wey